Friday, April 3, 2015

Order of Events

This past Sunday, our Pastor Emeritus gave his traditional Palm Sunday concert.  He really does have a gift for weaving songs and thoughts together to present a beautiful message, and I found myself paying attention more than I expected.

Perhaps that's because he said something that caught my interest.  Early in the service, listed all the things that happen between Palm Sunday and Resurrection Sunday.  It's quite a busy week! One of those happenings caught be by surprise.  It completely yanked me back from the beginnings of my sermon-time daydreaming. I knew it happened, but for some reason I had forgotten that it happened then.

Right after the triumphal entry is the infamous temple cleansing.  You know, the one where Jesus got really angry at the things he saw going on in the temple and started flipping over tables?

Really?  I thought.  That was the same week? I didn't think my pastor was lying to me, but I wanted confirmation.  So like any good church brat, I grabbed one of the pew Bibles and looked it up. There it was: Matthew 21, Mark 11, and Luke 19 all showed the same story.  (John 12 is the outlier because he only talks about the triumphal entry, not the cleansing of the temple.)

And then all of a sudden, the pieces fit together.

One of the biggest lessons I remember from that week is how quickly the winds of social favor can change.  And hearing all the events of that week as one list, it all sort of makes sense.

Because how natural is it to welcome Jesus with cheers, until he starts correcting and cleaning house? Suddenly "Hosanna" isn't the first phrase on the tip of the tongue.  It's "Hey buddy, back off!"

(Of course, Jesus knew exactly what he was doing and where this week was leading.  Perhaps this was just a very strategic first step in setting a lot of things straight.)

Tuesday, March 10, 2015


I've wrote about this before, but Joshua chapter 3 is one of my favorite passages of scripture.

After this big long journey, the priests stand in the middle of the Jordan river, holding back the water, and stay there while the rest of the Israelittes crossover into the promised land. This is flood time, so that's no tame river. And it's their promise too, but they stand there and wait for everyone else to get to their promise first.

Those themes seem to pop up often in my life: intercession, selflessness, empowering others, standing in the gap.

Reading it this time through, I was reminded that while they were obedient to their calling, the priests didn't do anything by their own power. (Maybe a bit obvious...but it still jumped out to me this time.) They were holding the Ark of the Covenant. They were just ordinary guys standing where God told them to stand. It's what they were carrying that made all the difference.

What's my modern-day equivalent? I think it's remembering to have God's word etched it into my heart and mind, and to let my character and actions be a reflection of Jesus. After all, my relationship with God is a covenant -- a promise I've made to follow him, and his promise to transform me from the inside out.  That covenant is one of my most valued possessions, and probably the greatest tool in my tool-house.

It's only when I'm walking in my covenant, that he can use me to help hold back the proverbial river, wherever he tells me to stand. If I try to step into that river without him, I'm toast. No matter how pure and selfless my intentions. But with him, I can stand against anything.

Even if it's a river at flood time, and he calls me to stand there long enough for millions of people to cross over to the other side.

I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. ~ Philippians 4:13 

Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. ~ Ephesians 6:13

In case you're curious, here's my other post about Joshua 3: Don Pedro

Tuesday, February 24, 2015


I was dropping off my favorite four-legged friend at my parents' house Saturday morning.  He's technically my mom's dog, but we're best buds so I love the times I get to spend with him.

My dad was doing his normal channel-surfing thing, and he happened to stumble upon the Alpine Skiing World Championships.  He must love me because he ceased with his surfing for a bit to let me enjoy the competition.  (I love things like this!)

I was even more stoked than usual because we caught the final runs for women's slalom, and I just love watching slalom.  There's a rhythm and grace to it that I find completely captivating.

But it's also exciting because in the blink of an eye, a perfect run can fall completely apart.  And not necessarily in dramatic fashion like a head-over-heels tumble.  I have this distinct memory from the Sochi Olympics last winter.  A skier was having a great run, leaning into every turn, gaining time on the leader, and just looking fantastic.  Then seemingly out of nowhere, she just stopped and took herself off the course.  It was very controlled, and left the commentators stunned for a brief moment.

"She must have missed a gate," one said.  And indeed, a review of her run showed that the tip of her ski just missed the second pole of a double gate.  She hugged the edge too much by millimeters and the pole went through her legs.

Just like that, her run was over.

She wasn't the only one who had trouble. That Sochi course was particularly difficult. Part of it was the course, and part of it was the weather. Watching skier after skier try to conquer that particularly tight section of the Sochi course brought to mind these verses:
Small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. Matthew 7:14 (One translation says: "The gateway is very narrow and the road is difficult...")  
So be careful to do what the LORD your God has commanded you; do not turn aside to the right or to the left. Deuteronomy 5:32
I've been mulling on them ever since.

Doing the right thing can be hard!  It's a narrow and challenging course.  And like a slalom skier, things can be going so well, but it only takes a moment to lose it and get off course.

How do you do it?

Core strength. Being balanced on your skis, and being able to lean into those turns takes a strong core. Staying centered through life's twists and turns takes the same.

Look ahead.  I remember an interview with Ted Ligety during the Sochi Olympics last winter.  He talked about the whole process of an Olympic slalom run.  They go down those mountains at 50 miles and hour or more, so those gates come at them fast.  He said he's always looking 2-3 gates ahead and constantly planning how one turn will flow into the next.

Lean in. Saturday's story was a triumphant one. Mikaela Shiffrin kept her rhythm, made every gate, and found an extra dose of speed on the bottom half of the course to defend her title.  Doing so in her hometown made the victory extra sweet. But finding that speed is about establishing rhythm and then leaning in -- committing to each turn to get as close to each gate as possible, while at the same time maintaining control and finding the best curve.  (Which circles back around to core strength.  Flirting with that edge takes real strength that has to come from the center.  Both mentally and physically.)

Narrow is the way.  Difficult is the road.  And it takes both adventure and control to navigate it well.  Just like slalom, those gates can come at you fast, and any number of things can knock you off track -- whether by a millimeter or by a mile.

Thank goodness ours is a race that isn't one where missing one gate counts you out.  We get to brush the snow off our butts and continue.

For this I am very grateful.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015


Home.  It's a powerful word.  It's where the heart is.  Whether it's with "your people" or in "your spot"....there's no place like it. And while I know I'm guilty of yearning for adventure, I can also attest to the truth that there's nothing quite like coming home again.

Imagine this scene from The Hobbit, just after the company of Dwarves have survived their escapades in Goblin town.  Bilbo had gotten separated from everyone else, and they're wondering where he might have gone.  Thorin, who doesn't have a lot of trust or confidence in Bilbo, thinks he has given up and abandoned them to head back to the Shire.  But after this less-than-supportive declaration, Bilbo emerges from behind a tree and says he's back.  Most of the company accepts this with a mixture of disbelief and joy.  But Thorin is still suspicious and demands a further explanation:

Gandalf: What does it matter? He's back.

Thorin: It matters.  I want to know.  Why did you come back?

Bilbo: I know you doubt me. I know you always have. You're right. I often think of Bag End. I miss my books, my armchair, my garden. See, that's where I belong. That's home. That's why I came back. You don't have one. It was taken from you. But I will help you take it back if I can.

It was this scene that flashed in my mind when I read this passage from the first chapter of Joshua:

So Joshua ordered the officers of the people: “Go through the camp and tell the people, ‘Get your provisions ready. Three days from now you will cross the Jordan here to go in and take possession of the land the Lord your God is giving you for your own.’” 
But to the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh, Joshua said, “Remember the command that Moses the servant of the Lord gave you after he said, ‘The Lord your God will give you rest by giving you this land.’ Your wives, your children and your livestock may stay in the land that Moses gave you east of the Jordan, but all your fighting men, ready for battle, must cross over ahead of your fellow Israelites. You are to help them until the Lord gives them rest, as he has done for you, and until they too have taken possession of the land the Lord your God is giving them. After that, you may go back and occupy your own land, which Moses the servant of the Lord gave you east of the Jordan toward the sunrise.” (Joshua 1:10-15)

I don't think I fully realized that not all the tribes needed to cross the Jordan river to claim their inheritance.  For two and a half tribes, their long journey was over.  They were already home.  But they still had to send their fighting men to help the other tribes claim their land.  This was their Bilbo moment.  But was also more than that. It struck me as a very clear picture of how the family of God really is one big family, who is expected to band together and help out, even at personal cost and sacrifice.

What impresses me most about Bilbo's story is that despite Thorin's consistent doubt, Bilbo sticks with the quest until the very end.  That's no small thing.  Could I do that?  Stick with someone who doubts me? Cross a river to help someone fight for their promise when there's no guarantee of coming home again?

But isn't that kind of the whole point of the Gospel?  To be love in action and live a life that points to the hope I've found?

You are to help them until the Lord gives them rest, as he has done for you. ...That's home. That's why I came back. You don't have one. It was taken from you. But I will help you take it back if I can.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Catch

Nearly two weeks ago, I witnessed what was probably the most amazing catch I've ever seen in football.  It was the epitome of playing to the whistle.  Of never giving up.  Of basically willing the catch to be complete. In the age of DVR, it was the kind of catch that demands to be instantly rewound and watched again.

It was just incredible.

And thanks to YouTube, you don't just have to take my word for it.  Take a look for yourself.

This is the kind of catch that wins games and is forever etched in the annals of history.


Less than a minute later, there would be an interception that would again change the course of the game and become the talking point of Monday Morning Quarterbacks for ages to come.

In less than a minute, this play went from being "one for the ages" to that "awesome play that happened a minute ago that doesn't matter all that much anymore".

But it *did* happen.  Jermaine Kearse made the play of his career, and we were all beside ourselves with a mixture of disbelief and joy (or despair if you were rooting for the other team).

I couldn't help but think of the Paradoxical Commandments: "The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.  Do good anyway."

What if your awesome catch is only the headline for 30 seconds?  Would you make it anyway?

Because you should.

No one knows what the future holds.  So make that catch. Do good anyway. 

You never know. While history might take an extra second to remember it, playing to the whistle is worth it.

Every time.

Good, bad, or ugly.  Remembered or instantly overshadowed. Whether it's good for 30 seconds or 30 years.  Do good anyway.  

It's a beautiful play.  And it might just make all the difference in the world.

Monday, January 26, 2015


At church this Sunday, we sang an oldie but a goodie:

I will never be the same again.  I can never return.  I've closed the door.  I will walk the path. I'll run the race.  And I will never be the same again.

Suddenly, I found myself picturing a scene from the movie Divergent.  In this world of this story, society is grouped into five factions.  Each one focuses on the cultivation of a particular virtue, and the idea is that they work together to all make their city better as a whole.

Things are never simple.  In this society, when children reach the age of 16, they have to decide which Faction they want to belong to -- whether it's the one they've been raised in, or one that's completely different. And of course, it's a decision that cannot be changed.  They're forever committed. Their Faction becomes their family.  In fact, there's a saying in this society: "Faction before blood."

Tris, the heroine of this tale, decides to change her Faction from Abnegation (selflessness) to Dauntless (bravery).  In doing so, she faces a pretty intense initiation period; one in which not all the initiates will succeed.  The stakes are high too.  If they fail, initiates can not go back to their original Faction.  By the rules of this society, they'd be condemned to being one of the "Factionless." And kind of like in "The Biggest Loser," if you fall beneath the red line, you're out.

All of that is backstory to set up the scene.  Back in the dormitory after a rough day of training, Tris is sharing her concern about her ranking (second from the bottom) with her best friend Christina.

Tris - I'm never gonna make it.
Christina - Yes you will.
Tris - I'm the weakest one here
Christina - Then you'll be the most improved.
Tris - You're Candor, you're not supposed to lie.
Christina- I was Candor, and I'm not lying.
Al - If they cut me I think my parents would take me back.
Peter - No it doesn't work like that. Even if they wanted to, their faction wouldn't allow it.
Tris - Even if my parents would take me back, I wouldn't belong there anymore.

I can never return.  I've closed the door.

There are days when I struggle, (And days when I feel like I'm doing pretty awesome.)  But whether it's day when all the cylinders are firing, or a day when all I can do to keep from crying tears of frustration, this one thing I know... even if I could go back, I wouldn't.  I've been forever captured and changed by a love I will spend the rest of my life trying to imitate and understand.

As Four might say: "It's brave, and selfless, and smart, and kind, and honest."  It's also divergent. And my choice to follow it has irrevocably transformed my life.

I will walk the path.  I'll run the race.  And I will never be the same again.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Maxing Out

Like many others, I made some fitness goals and resolutions a few weeks ago for the new year.  Actually, I got a jumpstart on the whole "new year's resolution" idea and started my new routine a week early.  My chosen program:  Shaun T's Insanity Max 30.  It follows a high intensity interval training format, which basically means it's no joke.  But thankfully for me and my sketchy knees, there's a low-impact modifier for almost all of the moves.

For three weeks, I was content to follow the modifier track.  But inspired by my dreams of a flat stomach, killer triceps, and 8-pack abs, I decided it was time for me to make the jump.  To take the chance.  To max out and go high impact.

So halfway through last Saturday's routine, I decided to leave my modifying ways behind and do the regular, jumping, high-impact move along with the rest of Shaun T's crew.

And I promptly rolled my ankle and landed in a heap in the middle of my living room floor.


As I gathered myself back together and talked myself into finishing the routine, I had the thought: "How many times has this happened in other parts of my life?"  (For example: not just with push-ups, but with patience?)  I try to take things up a notch and be a bit better, only to fall in a inglorious heap of good intentions, missed marks, and flubbed opportunities.

It's humbling to realize you're not ready for the high impact stuff.  But it takes away the sting to know that keeping up with the athletes on the screen isn't the point.  (Though, admittedly a hard one to always accept when you're competitive like I am.)

The point is to go as hard as you can, to take a break when you need it, and then to get back up and get in there and focus on making yourself stronger.  As Shaun T would say, "You are simply working on your personal best.  There is no shame in stopping at your max."

Whether in my workout, or in life, the point is to do the best I can.  Not to measure up to the superstars (or to the unattainable), but just to do my best.  And I won't discover what that point is until I push it and take that chance.

Surprisingly, this workout is teaching me to give myself a bit more grace; to not be afraid or ashamed of maxing out.  But to find that point (and perhaps fall down), then gather myself, get back up, and do better next time.

No shame.  Imua.  Moving forward and being better than I was before.


P.S. - I want to mention that for a few days after my embarrassing fall, I walked with a bit of a limp.  Falling hurt!  But it made me think that sometimes a limp can be a badge of honor.  Because it means you tried.  You reached.  And maybe it didn't work out the way you planned.  But you'll heal, and you can try it again.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

One Little Word: Imua

In late December, I was minding my own business and watching the latest episode of The Biggest Loser.  The final five contestants left "The Ranch" to go to Kauai, Hawaii.  When they were officially welcomed by Alison Sweeney, the host, she said:

"Aloha.  Welcome to the island of Kauai. Elite athletes from every corner of the earth head here to battle the elements and push themselves in some of the greatest physical challenges on earth.  It's traditional in Hawaii to wish people before a sporting event Imua, which means "move forward". So for all of you, keep up the good work. Imua everyone.  Good luck.  I'll see you soon."

And it was like a little bit of lightning struck my brain.  I immediately knew I had my next "One Little Word."  Because it was right around this time when I truly felt like I was emerging from a fog. It's a surreal feeling actually -- to finally get enough distance from something to have some perspective.

That sounded vague.  Here's what I mean.

I didn't really realize how much of a toll my spirit had taken over the past two years until I started settling back into my house and trying to move forward.  Instead of immediately springing into my dreams and ambitions, I feel like I've wasted the past two months! (maybe more.)  But God has been speaking to me; healing cracks and hurts I didn't know I had, and revealing areas in which I need to repent and change.  That's never comfortable, but at the same time, I'm also grateful to have my eyes opened.

Soon after finding the word imua, I read Philippians 3:12-14 from the Message translation.  It literally shouted out to my heart.

"I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back."

That's my prayer.  To go ever toward Jesus, and not turn back.

Taking a moment to look back on my previous words -- Tenacity, (2010) Generosity. (2011) Fast. (2012) Servanthood.(2013-2014) -- I can see how meditating on each one has helped me to learn and grow.

I really have a special feeling about this one though.

Like I said... I'm emerging from my fog, reconnecting to my life, and looking forward to my year of  moving forward.